Fashion's dirty little secret
Terry Richardson's most famous work of late involves Miley Cyrus performing fellatio on a hammer. Not that this is surprising necessarily, given Miley's recent antics. Nor is it surprising given Richardson's past work.
Richardson, who has shot everyone from Barack Obama to Beyonce, has been pegged as photography's "naughty knave"; a title bestowed upon him because of his largely pornographic portfolio taken in the name of "art".
Naughty, however, might be too nice a word for the 48-year-old American who has, on multiple occasions, been accused of being a predator, using his position to coerce sexual favours from young models.
"It's not who you know, it's who you blow. I don't have a hole in my jeans for nothing," was the advice the "knave" once offered to aspiring models. "Uncle Terry", as he likes to be called, has photographed many of these aspiring models putting things in their mouths. Unsurprisingly, a recurring theme of his photos is his penis.
"I was a shy kid," he has said, "and now I'm this powerful guy with a boner, dominating all these girls."
What is surprising about Richardson is not that he shoots nudes or even documents having sex with them. It is that, long since he has been exposed as exploitative, he is still getting booked for high-profile gigs.
Not only with Miley Cyrus, but for Vogue, H&M and numerous other big name brands.
A petition was launched against him last month, imploring brands not to work with him. More than 15,000 people have signed the petition already, but it seems to have had little impact in the industry.
Richardson responded to the petition with a statement through his publicist: "As far as any backlash goes, Terry is currently working with a long list of high-profile clients, so we really don't know what you're referring to."
It might be shocking that his behaviour is seemingly accepted, but what it exposes about the industry as a whole is even more worrying.
Rena Harvey is an Australian fashion photographer who has worked in the industry for over a decade. She believes the issue of photographers exploiting young aspiring models for their own titillation is endemic.
"There are so many photographers doing the same thing [as Richardson]," says the 37-year-old, who has shot for Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Playboy. She says she has lost count of the number of times models have told her they were made to take their clothes off - or worse, despite not wanting to.
"What happens is them feeling like they have no choice. They're vulnerable," Rena says of many young, inexperienced models who assume the nude shot is par for the course if they want a career in modelling. There's fear, Harvey says, "that if they don't do what he wants, he's not going to book them again."
It's a sentiment supermodel Rie Rasmussen echoed when she spoke out against Richardson several years ago.
"He takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of," she told the New York Post. "They are too afraid to say no, because their agency booked them on the job, and [they] are too young to stand up for themselves."
Rena Harvey is keen to point out that the problem isn't nude shots in themselves. What matters, she says, is the intention behind the shot. "If you have a message to portray, then definitely do it."
The problem is when photographers use their position of power to take gratuitous shots for their own gratification.
She encourages young models to "listen to your gut" and realise that "you can show your power with your clothes on and clothes off".
She would also like to see more women in the male-dominated industry. Female photographers are likely to be able to read the women they are shooting better, she says, and "have respect and see when [the model] is uncomfortable".
But, primarily she believes that a shift won't happen until society as a whole stops perpetuating the idea that only sex sells. "When is this going to stop?" she asks. "Sensuality and beauty is not just walking around naked."
Sydney Morning Herald